Measuring how the autistic brain of 2 year olds responds to words predicts future abilities

Early intervention is important in the developmental strategies for those with autism, but why is it that the learning of one child may be significantly more or less than another. A new  research paper, published May 29 in the journal PLoS ONE, studied 24 –  2 year old children who had autism and 20 other 2 year olds that did not.

Study co-author Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer at the advocacy group Autism Speaks said:

“In this study, we were interested in understanding why some children with autism make rapid progress whereas others progress more slowly.

“For example, many children with autism are able to develop spoken language, whereas about 20 percent to 30 percent remain minimally verbal or nonverbal. Recent studies have shown that nonverbal children can be helped to develop spoken language if they are given special alternative devices — such as an iPad or other speech-generating device — as part of their early intervention program. But we don’t know how to identify which children are likely to need extra help.”

In the study three groups were create, those without autism, those with mild symptoms and those with more severe developmental issues. All children had their brain responses measure while listening to familiar and unfamiliar words.

The authors believe from their study that children on the higher end of the spectrum actually process words in a similar manner than neurotypical children at the same age. Both of these two groups had a strong response to known words in a specific area of the left side of the brain called the temporal parietal region, which is responsible for language.

Dawson says,

“We showed that a simple measure of how the brain responds to a familiar word taken at 2 years of age was a strong predictor of children’s language, social and cognitive abilities … at 6 years of age,”